Schedule + Readings

Intro to Art History

What are the practices of art history? And what is “modernism,” anyway? We’ll learn some key terms, get to know each other, and come up with goals and class agreements to set the space.

Fill out welcome survey!


How did modern artists understand the natural world? What relationship did they depict between people and the land? Do artists collaborate with nature?

Read: “The Hudson River School” (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Read: “Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Trade” (SmartHistory)
Watch: “The Case for Land Art” (9:28 minutes)

Urban Space

How do modern artists visualize the city and urban life? What seems to inspire them about the modern city? What is being communicated about public space and its function?

Watch: “Hopper, Nighthawks” (SmartHistory, 4:47 min)
Watch: “Jacob Lawrence, The Migration Series” (SmartHistory, 11:24 min)
Read: James Van Der Zee on MoMA website
Look At: James Van Der Zee photographs
on ICP website and National Gallery of Art (scroll down to “Selected Works”)

AFTER CLASS: Select an artwork from the artwork library for your formal analysis and send your choice to me before next class (2/15).

Spirituality & Belief

How did artists in this period respond to earlier representations of the divine? What cosmologies and beliefs did they build?

Read: “Kandinsky, Apocalypse, Abstraction” (SmartHistory)
Watch: “Hilma af Klint” (Guggenheim, 7 min)
Listen: “Meditation and Modern Art Meet In Rothko Chapel” (NPR)

Dreams & The Subconscious

How do artists use the subconscious to create artwork? What’s the line between a dream and a nightmare? How does the imaginary also relate to real world concerns?

Read: “Surrealism, an Introduction” (SmartHistory)
Read: “Surrealism and Psychoanalysis” (SmartHistory)
Watch: “The Case for Surrealism” (PBS 10:17 min)

Nationalism & Revolution

What role does art play in constructing the idea of a nation? How did modern art undermine governing power or align itself with revolution instead?

Watch + Read: “Eugène Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People” (SmartHistory, 6 min)
Read: “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism” by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

Watch: “The Revolution of the Black Square” (HENI Talks, 14 min)

AFTER CLASS: Finish the formal analysis paper, due 3/14.

Race & Ethnicity

How does modern art address or ignore race and racism? How do artists assert their identity, push back on prejudice, or perpetuate stereotypes and racial power structures?

Read: “Primitivism and Modern Art” (SmartHistory)
Read: “Orientalism” (SmartHistory)

War & Memory

How did modern art respond to war and conflict? What is the impact of showing violence and what is accomplished by obscuring or avoiding it?

NOTE: We will also have a session on research techniques and resources at the Leonard Lief Library and will meet there (at the circulation desk!)

Watch: “Was this famous war photo staged?” (Vox, 8:27 min)
Read: “The ‘Black Gash of Shame’ – Revisiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Controversy” (Art21)

Gender & Sexuality

How do artworks of this period subvert or entrench expectations around gender? How do artists use their work to resist specific identities and rules?

Read: “Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party” (SmartHistory)
Read: “Catherine Opie, Self-Portrait/Cutting” (SmartHistory)
Watch: “Guerilla Girls – ‘You Have to Question What You See'” (Tate, video, 7 min)
BONUS READING (optional): “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” by Linda Nochlin

AFTER CLASS: Visit a museum or gallery (if you haven’t already) and turn in a formal reflection by 4/4.

Art Museums and Institutions

We’ll discuss your museum experiences and talk about the history of museums and collecting, How are museums related to power, and why are they becoming sites of protest and activism?

Read: “A Brief History of the Art Museum” (SmartHistory)
Watch: “Museums: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (34:08 min)
Read: “Activists Convene Near Museum of Modern Art to Envision a ‘Post-MoMA Future'” (Hyperallergic)
Read: “Protests at art museums are nothing new” (NPR)

The Art Market: Auction Game

As an extension of our conversation about art museums & institutions, we will learn about the art market and valuation of art works by playing an auction game! Your team will represent one institution (a museum, a foundation, a nonprofit, etc) and will have money and a mission that drives you to collect art pieces. We’ll auction off some artworks and see which team ends up with the highest “reputation” in the end!

Technology & Consumerism

How did advances in technology impact the way art was created in the 19th and 20th centuries? What kind of triumphs and anxieties come from these advances? We’ll form your groups for your final presentations.

AFTER CLASS: Watch lectures and send me responses to class reflection questions via email!

AFTER CLASS: Finish a draft of your research paper, due 5/2

Course Review

We’ll play a review game and the winning team will get extra points toward their presentation! We’ll also have some time in class for group work toward your final presentations.

AFTER CLASS: Work on your group presentations (due 5/16).

??? (You Choose the Theme!)

This theme is up to you. What’s missing? What ideas or topics are you curious to explore? We’ll have a bit more time for group project work.

Work on your group presentations (due 5/16) and your final research papers (due 5/23)

Exhibition Showcase

You’ll present your group projects and we’ll reflect on how the course went overall.

AFTER CLASS: Finish your final research papers (due 12/15/23)!

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